How to Do Content Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

“Content marketing” sounds expensive. For a lot of companies, it is expensive. Most of the businesses I work with aren’t exactly rolling around in piles of money.

I get questions like this — “Where do I get the budget for content marketing?” “How can I afford this?” “Why is it so expensive?” “Is content marketing really worth the cost?”

The Tough News About the Cost of Content Marketing

Here’s an email that I received just last week. This business owner was asking me about the cost of good content:

small company response to content marketing

I understand his concern.

65% of companies consider content marketing to be too expensive (source). But at the same time, content marketing is a huge industry with incredible amounts of money being spent.

According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, B2Bs spend a whopping 30% of their marketing budget on content marketing. The Custom Content Council (CCC) reported that the content marketing industry is on a meteoric rise (9.2% growth last year). The digital marketing industry is huge, with figures hovering around the $118 billion mark.

But where are these buckets of money coming from?

For small companies, they’re not.

Statements like this are oh-so-typical:

content marketing is the new black

In addition to fielding questions about how to afford content marketing, I’m reading about people throwing up their hands in despair:

content marketing too expensive

For a lot of small companies, there’s no such thing as buckets of money to spend on content marketing. According to E-Consultancy, a paltry 34% of companies have a dedicated content marketing budget. They report two obstacles to content marketing:

  1. Not enough money (35% of companies)
  2. Not enough people (42% of companies), which is kind of the same thing as not enough money.

Those are big obstacles. In other words, a massive number of great companies can’t succeed in the digital space, because they can’t afford content marketing.

The Good News About the Cost of Content Marketing

That’s tough news. But I’m convinced that content marketing doesn’t have to be as expensive and scary as these numbers make it sound.

Can you identify with any of these?

  • “I just don’t have enough money for content marketing.”
  • “I’m starting an online business, but I’m funding it from my kids’ college fund. There’s no budget for content marketing.”
  • “I’m trying to persuade my cash-strapped boss to do content marketing, but he says it’s ‘not financially feasible.’”
  • “I’ve already run the numbers for content marketing. I know it’s too expensive for me right now.”
  • “Um, I’m a startup. ‘Nuff said.”

If any of those points resonate with you, I’ve got good news.

Content marketing is not as expensive as you think.

I’m going to explain several ways of doing content marketing that cost dramatically less than conventional estimates.

This article will show you how you can launch a successful content marketing campaign that gets results, while not plunging your company into bankruptcy.

Let me give you the quick two-point sketch of content marketing on a shoestring budget:

  1. Create a spot on your website for a blog.
  2. Post content once a week.

Now, let me explain how to do it with a teeny budget.

What do I do? The Bare Minimum Essentials of Content Marketing.

Content marketing does not have to be complicated. I created the Advanced Guide to Content Marketing, which explains in exact detail how to do content marketing.

But for some companies who are just walking into this content marketing thing (clutching their budget with nervous hands) the complicated way might not be the best. They get intimidated by the complexity, and end up doing nothing.

I want you to do content marketing, without having to blow 190% of your marketing budget. Here’s what you do:

1. Start a blog.

Cost: Free or basically free

You don’t even have to call it a blog. This is basically a page on your website where you can post content. Let me give you a few pointers:

  • Post it on the same root domain as your main website. For example, don’t create a new site that’s called blog.example.com. That creates a different root domain, and a new link profile. One goal of content marketing is SEO, and you’re not going to get the SEO benefit to your main site if you launch a new one — like blog.example.com. Instead, use this format: example.com/blog.
  • Use WordPress. It’s the easiest and most versatile CMS for blogging. If you’re going to be recruiting the help of others for the blog, this is going to be important. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything. If you already use a WordPress site, simply add a new page, and call it “blog.”
  • Link to it from your main page. This is content marketing best practice. I’ve discovered that a few simple menu links works best for any website, especially from a conversion standpoint. You can look at the top of this page to see how I’ve positioned my blog link.

4-quicksprout-blog-link

How much does it cost?

Creating a blog is going to cost next to nothing. With a WordPress site, creating a blog literally takes ten seconds. If you have a complicated custom theme, then redesign may take 15 minutes.

Do you have any ability with websites or work with someone who does? Then you’re ready to launch a blog. You can start now.

If you have to hire someone to create your blog, then the cost should still be low.

2. Post once a week.

Cost: Free or low cost options discussed below.

Now that you have a blog, you’re officially almost doing content marketing. Welcome.

It’s time to start creating content. This is the fun part. Here’s where you start to refine your message, gain first-place rank, get linkbacks from the New York Times, field interviews from CNN, and consider retiring in a mansion on the French Riviera because your company will be so successful.

Okay, let’s take a step back.

We’re going to take small steps here. The goal right now is to just create some content. Do it just once a week if you have to. You have to start somewhere.

So, let’s talk about how to get that content on the proverbial shoestring budget.

How do I do it? Where do I get content without spending much?

Content can be expensive. Some copywriters command $25,000 for putting together just a few hundred words. Other professional blog writers charge $400-700 per post.

That’s why I have to write a post like this. That’s why other blogs have to deal with the money objection:

5-not-worth-the-money

You can’t afford $700 for an article on your blog. (Yet.) Someday, hopefully, yes. But not right now.

I’m going to give you several options that cost less. This list is arranged in order of least expensive (free) to slightly more expensive than free.

1. Do the writing yourself.

How much does it cost? Nothing except your time. This is a free choice. It’s also the choice that most small online businesses make. It does, however, take time.

How much time does it take? 45 minutes to an hour and a half per week.

That’s not a ton of time, but it does mean that you’ll have to find it somewhere in your schedule. If you’re a CEO of a small company, a mom or dad, or just plain busy (aren’t we all?), then you’re going to have to fight to find the time.

How do I do it?

  • Find time in your schedule.
  • Come up with a rough schedule and article titles.
  • Write and publish your articles on the blog.

Is it right for me?

This is a good choice for you if any of the following are true:

  • You’re a self-starter.
  • You’re relatively disciplined.
  • You’re running a really small company, or are the only person who can do this.
  • You’re able to find an hour a week, and stay consistent.

2. Assign team members to do the writing.

How much does it cost? Nothing additional. Keep in mind that your employees aren’t exactly “free.” If you choose to assign this task to your workers, be aware of their existing workload and ability.

How much time does it take? 15 minutes to 1 hour a week.

You’ll have to take time to plan the approach, then to assign the tasks. If you have more than one team member, you can rotate the blogging schedule around. If you have four employees who are good writers, you can have your employees write once a month.

How do I do it?

  • Speak to your team members about it.
  • Create a schedule, and assign responsibilities.
  • Come up with topics, or let your team members do it.
  • Provide a way for your workers to submit their posts (email, WordPress, or your CMS).
  • Proofread and post each submission according to schedule.

With WordPress, you can provide blog access to as many people as you want. You’re also able restrict their access to writing and submitting posts only.

Is this right for me?

Like any management decision, you have to consider the capability of your team and yourself to do content marketing. Here are three positive indicators:

  • You have team members who are willing.
  • You have team members who are good writers.
  • You are a competent manager with good delegating skills.

3. Hire a freelancer.

How much does it cost? $10-75 per post. As with any cost-based decision, this principle is true: The more you pay, the better quality you’ll be able to get. Since this article is focused on low-budget content marketing, $10-75 is in the lower tier of content costs.

You’ll still be able to find quality writers, but it may take some time to find one.

Note: The average cost per article is around $20-30.

How much time does it take? 15 minutes a week to 1 hour or more. Startup time may take from 2-4 hours.

How do I do it?

  • Post an ad for a freelance writer. You can use Craigslist or Writejobs.info to look for writers. The more details you provide about the job, the better your job post will be. Include these details:
    • How much you’ll pay.
    • Payment method (check, Paypal, etc.)
    • Areas of expertise required (e.g., in-depth and working knowledge of widgets)
    • Whether you’d like samples, an interview, or some other form of application.
    • How much experience you want the writer to have.
    • What topics the writer will need to be familiar with.
    • Any other expectations you have (e.g., familiarity with WordPress, word count requirements, weekly phone calls, etc.)
    • Language abilities (e.g., native English speakers only)
    • State your hiring process: 1) Phone interview, 2) Paid sample, 3) Selection
  • Sort through the avalanche of applications. You will receive hundreds if not thousands of applications for your posted position. Quickly weed out the good from the bad based on their sample writing quality and any features that stand out to you.
  • Select a handful of candidates, and conduct phone interviews. Ask them a few questions to gauge their level of competence. Hubspot provides an interview guide for working with freelance writers.
  • Ask the writer to create a sample article. I recommend paying them for this, since you are asking them to do some work on behalf of your company. You should assign them a topic or title, word count, and deadline.
  • Select the writer(s) you want, and begin working with them consistently.

Is this right for me?

  • You’re comfortable working with freelancers and/or remote workers.
  • You have a small budget ($20-75 weekly)
  • You’re able to spend the startup time selecting and hiring a freelancer.

4. Use a content provider.

Examples: Textbroker.com, ODesk.com

How much does it cost? Starts at $3.90 per post. Textbroker’s rates start at 1.3 cents (USD) per word. At this rate, a short blog post of 300 words would cost just shy of four dollars. These articles are considered low quality, however, and are expected to have errors. Higher quality work costs substantially more. Using a top-grade writer on Textbroker costs $21.6 for a 300-word article.

How do I do it?

  • Textbroker: Start a free account, deposit money, and post your job.
  • ODesk: Select a freelancer, and communicate your project.

Is this right for me?

The low quality writing on Textbroker is very inexpensive — a viable choice for cash-strapped companies. You may have to perform extensive editing on such writing, but you’re still able to get content for a fraction of conventional prices. Using a writer from ODesk, or ordering high quality content costs more, but it’s within the budgeting reach of some companies.

Here are some signs that this is the right move for you:

  • You and your team are not able to do the writing yourselves.
  • You’re looking for quick turnaround times.
  • You’re comfortable with a third-party system like Textbroker or ODesk.

Other Options

Hire a content marketing firm.

This is usually a pretty expensive option, and I advise against it for several reasons:

  • They usually lock you into a long-term contract. If you’re unsatisfied with their product, you’ve still contracted to pay a set amount for a specified duration.
  • The cost is high. Often, such companies simply use the same resource of writers (e.g., work-from-home freelancers, Textbroker, etc.), but add a substantial markup.
  • The quality is often subpar.

The great thing about a content marketing firm is that you get a completely outsourced process, from start to finish. No more worrying about SEO, no juggling an editorial calendar, no vetting writers, or proofreading work. There are, however, cons that I think outweigh such pros.

Reallocate marketing funds.

One possible option is to simply take some funds from “traditional” marketing and assign it to content marketing. There’s no additional cost, although there may be some added time requirements.

Reallocation could work for you, if the following are true:

  • You have an existing marketing budget (even a small one).
  • You identify a budget item with low ROI.
  • You identify a budget item that is outdated or too expensive.

Simply take some of these funds and invest them into content marketing. Kapost, in a summary of DemandMetric’s findings, report that content marketing costs 62% less and generates 3 times as many leads. There’s definitely an ROI.

The Golden Touch by Sean Work

It is possible to do content marketing on a shoestring budget. However, the success depends on your oversight. You can’t set it and forget it. You’ll need to watch over your content marketing initiative like a hawk. Here are some tips to ensure that your content marketing campaign is effective:

  1. Realize that you and your company are experts on a certain subject matter. Chances are it’s related to the business you’re in. So how can you teach your customers and prospects things that will help them get ahead? That’s where you will find your best content.
  2. Based on the answers above, create an editorial calendar. Craft headlines for articles or videos based on the answers you come up with. Set publishing dates for each topic proposal. This will keep you on the right track.
  3. Outline your topics. A lot of the details and juicy tidbits that you want your audience to know about are probably stuck in your mind somewhere. It’s important to outline your vision for each post thoroughly so that your writers are on the same page. Otherwise, they’ll likely come up with something completely different.
  4. Create a guide for your writers to follow. Be explicit as how you want your images formatted, how you want articles packaged for delivery or even how to set up a post inside your blog CMS. A great guide can ensure consistency and cut down time and costs.
  5. Teach your writers how to improve. Review each post that is published and send your writers tips for improvement. And if you find that your guide could be improved, always update your guide accordingly.

Power Tip: Use in-house team members to write content. The point of your blog is most likely to educate your audience and to show that you’re an authority in your space. Who else can write excellent content like that?

Conclusion: Where do I go from here?

I’ve just explained how you can start content marketing. It can cost nothing to next-to-nothing, and gives you incredible ROI through increased traffic, improved SEO, more leads, increased sales, and higher profitability.

As you gain more money through your nascent content marketing efforts, you’ll be able to invest that money back into content marketing.

Here’s how to keep improving:

  • Scale up your quality. Be willing to improve your content spending to improve your quality.
  • Increase your output. Eventually, you may get to the point where you can post daily or almost daily.
  • Use a variety of content. Videos, infographics, and webinars cost more, but have huge results. As you earn more via content marketing, consider launching additional content efforts.
  • Integrate content marketing with social media marketing.
  • Leverage your content marketing to grow a mailing list and start email marketing.
  • Create free resources (e.g., ebooks) that you can give away to gain leads.

Content marketing will pay for itself. Even though your budget may start small, you can snowball it into something that will totally change your company. Content marketing can take you from a nobody’s-ever-heard-of-it business to a massively popular brand.

The potential is there. You’ve just got to take those baby steps and start out.

What low-cost content marketing method are you going to use?

About the Authors: Neil Patel is the Chief Evangelist of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout. Sean Work runs the blog at KISSmetrics.

  1. These are all great tips, and I’m glad that content marketing is becoming so popular – not least because it is such an effective and fun thing to do.

    I can’t help but point out though, the first tip says:

    “Post it on the same root domain as your main website”

    So how come the Kissmetrics blog is on a subdomain?

    In fact, the Daily Egg is on a subdomain too. What was your reasoning for this Neil?

    • Hi Mark, the reason why is because KISSmetrics.com is a web application. Due to the way we started and the constraints we faced at the time, it made much more sense to put the blog on another server. However, it is much more ideal to host your blog on your root domain if you can.

  2. These are all great tips, and I’m glad that content marketing is becoming so popular – not least because it is such an effective and fun thing to do.
    Thanks!

  3. Jonathan John Apr 23, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I strongly disagree with two points you came up with on hiring content marketing firms:

    “The cost is high. Often, such companies simply use the same resource of writers (e.g., work-from-home freelancers, Textbroker, etc.), but add a substantial markup.

    Firstly, what’s wrong with a work-from-home freelancer? You’ll find that a high percentage of the copywriters that command five-figure blog posts work from home themselves. How do you relate work-from-home with bad quality writing?

    Secondly, NO, content marketing firms do not often outsource to TextBroker or any other content mill. Did you really research this before posting?

    “The quality is often subpar.”

    Where the dickens did you get that from?

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

    P.S. The rest of the post is gold, by the way. Thank you for it! :)

  4. Thanks for this wonderful article.

    I have just started a blog in last 2 weeks and I write my own articles although inspired by other people and looking in to the demand in the market. However, it is easy than I thought. The only thing it takes is time. Yes, we know time is money. But at last, I am not spending any dime now to create or populate my blog.

    Well, company’s scenario may be different from personal blogging and they may use outsourcing options but again no one can know what to blog and what & how to include apart from the staff of a company. So in my opinion, it should not be outsourced.

    Again thanks for bringing light through this article.

    • Keyur, thanks for your feedback. In-house is always best when it is practical. However, it often is easier and much more efficient to outsource to experts. Looking forward to hearing more from you :)

  5. Nice post Neil. To someone on a budget this: “How much does it cost? Starts at $3.90 per post.”

    Would read: “It’s $3.90 per post”

    :) I guess they’ll soon realise when they get burnt a few times.

    I actually want a writer to help 1. Editing my own work – it gets a bit blurry :) and 2. To get a bit more volume going.

    The fact I’m also fairly new to actually promoting the content (I’m used to just ghost writing and firing emails with .docs in them), doesn’t put me in a good position overall :)

    Anyways, I’ve referenced you in my Video Content piece, feel free to let me know your thoughts and look forward to the next piece.

    • Grant, thanks for the heads up on that. Thanks for the share. We look forward to hearing more from you :)

  6. 45 minutes to one hour for a post? I have never written a decent post in such a short time.

    There is something wrong with me, or it’s very very low.

    How much time it took you Neil to write this post?

    • Zsuzsi, once you get a rhythm and process going the time it takes to create a post will decrease. It usually takes me a couple of hours now.. However, my posts are very long.

  7. As a writer myself, I can tell you that you get what you pay for. You can’t expect to get top quality blog content from content farms, paying $10-$30 per blog. If you want to be seen as a thought leader and not just someone who is putting out content for content’s sake, you need to hire a writer who will take the time to understand you and your business. You can’t do that by giving a writer a list of keywords and telling them to write a blog post. You’ll get 500 words of jibberish that could go on hundreds — maybe thousands — of websites. If you want content that sets your website apart from everyone else, you must work hand-in-hand with a writer so that she/he understands your unique selling proposition and can write copy in your voice. If you can only afford to post great content weekly, then do it only weekly. It’s much better than posting junk several times a week.

    • Gail, I completely agree. Quality always beats quantity… hands down! Looking forward to hearing more from you :)

  8. Thomas Lartin Apr 23, 2014 at 8:22 am

    Maybe I am just a good writer, but people who don’t write any blogs to me just seem lazy. I have no respect for people who don’t try. Now if we have a blog on another domain should we combine these two websites? In what circumstances would that be warranted?

    • Thomas, you can but you should always create new content entirely to avoid any duplicate content issues.

  9. You’ve missed the biggest savings of all… user generated content. How about getting your customer to “tell their story”. Nothing fancy, a simple email request… boom great content. Now your customer is telling your prospects the GREAT outcome of doing x,y or z… think engagement with your current customer. ask them questions you are being asked by your prospective new clients – user their answers as verification of what you do.

    • Torrey, thanks for covering that angle. I think personal engagement from customers is always a great bonus. Looking forward to hearing more from you :)

  10. Rebecca Haden Apr 23, 2014 at 9:01 am

    You’ve got a useful post here, but I’m going to take issue with some of what you’ve written.

    First, Jonathan’s right — and oDesk is quite different from Textbroker, too. It is by no means a content mill. ZsuZsi and Gail are right, too — though our company bloggers are pretty fast.

    Beyond simple errors in fact, though, I think there are a couple of premises here that can’t be defended. One is that content marketing is effective even if you have poor quality content. Hasn’t Google made it quite clear that those days are over?

    Another is that blogging is free if you do it yourself. The reason companies like ours exist is that business owners notice that their time isn’t cheap. We talk with plenty of business owners who plan to do their own blogging — we even build websites for them, with a blog all ready for them to use. The total number who are blogging regularly on their own sites: zero.

    An enjoyable read, but folks who try to put it into practice may be disappointed.

    • Good points Rebecca. I find that with my clients too……..they want to DIY but only a motivated few take the necessary action. I help my clients with content calendars and show them how to repurpose existing content which helps remove some of the “this takes a lot of time” fear. But there’s definitely a big Done For You market opportunity too!

  11. Very useful post !!! I’ve shared it with my customers (I’m a freelancer) and I’ve received good feedbacks :)
    Thks !

  12. Speaking as a freelancer who works over oDesk.com with a company in tourism industry as their content marketing officer, I can tell you that if you are busy and can’t do it in house, this is the best thing you can do. Of course, it’s important to remember the adage that you get what you pay for so I would steer clear from the lowest end writers. If you are interested in talking about a partnership, feel free to drop me a line, I offer a good combination of value vs. quality.

  13. Great post, thanks!

    I disagree with the comment about the expense of using content firms and being locked into a contract though.
    I use QualiT Reviews frequently and have had great and inexpensive experiences and I’m not tied into any contract!

  14. Great post, thanks for share this!

  15. Pretty nice article. Love to read it. Great work and Keep going.

  16. Great post – there are simplistic ways around spiraling costs. Employing a journalist to be your SEO administrator is a good start. There are plenty of unemployed journalists right now so it wouldn’t be difficult to find one. Then skip on things such as elaborate campaigns – such as infographics. They’re a waste of money, don’t bother with them.

    Other than this, it’s all about content. As long as it’s good and keeps coming out, you can save money.

  17. Really superb things you shared with us Neil & we also agree with all the points you have shared except hiring a freelancer as we don’t know about their work quality.

    • Glad we could help. It’s a tough balancing act with freelancers. You should really do your research before diving in!

  18. Hi Neil, great article. I don’t know why some businesses make things so complicated and expensive. I’m a big believer in posting weekly (blog and ezine) and then repurposing content into top tips, social media posts, and memes. Why reinvent the wheel? Write 4 or 5 high value-add authority posts on your topic and then rotate them, with a different spin/fresh content, and maybe sliced and diced into different perspectives. Saves loads of time but still builds your brand and provides value. Thanks for all the ideas too!

    • Cassie, thanks for the added tips. They were very insightful and I am sure helpful for the readers :)

  19. Great post, but one this wasn’t said: Guest blogging. There I said it! I know the topic is taboo at the moment, but there are a ton of community and industry associations which small businesses belong and could take on a leadership role. By contacting your local or national trade association or chamber of commerce, small businesses can marketing their knowledge and insight within a niche blogs and reap huge benefits. Not all trade or community associations include all businesses within their directories and marketing, so a small business could really stand out by being the voice of their community/industry.

  20. Great content marketing tactics! As a writer myself, I can tell you that nothing good can come out of a cheap text written with one eye shut.

  21. Great article Neil and I can do nothing more than to agree with the two obstacles: money and time.

    A few things I would like to add here:
    - In my experience, if you need content in another language than English (for example Dutch) it is really hard to get good articles in the lower price range. Especially if specific knowledge is needed.
    - I do feel you need quite some writing experience to write a great blog post (including research) in approx. one hour; it also depends on the niche/market.
    - Needanarticle.com is another good option for content; just experience with a couple of writers and you will find a few great ones.

  22. Nice article about content marketing, this gives many ideas about content marketing budget and how to make it success. Thanks a lot for this article.

  23. We take on unpaid interns from University! We then groom them and teach them basic skills. It’s up to them to be proactive within the team to find content ideas. If they are really good we try and keep them for ourselves and salary them after 4 months or so. It’s a great way to identify passion if someone is willing to work for free.

    • Neil, great point. I think the truest character is shown when someone does something for passion and love.

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